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So long, Cowlitz River.

Longview's water supply for at least the next 50 years will be an aquifer below the Mint Farm Industrial Park, the City Council decided by a 6-1 vote Thursday. Councilman Don Jensen cast the lone vote against the project.

The council voted to approve a contract with Kennedy/Jenks Consultants to create a final design for the $38.7 million groundwater treatment plant. The city had retained Kennedy/Jenks last March to determine whether the deep aquifer below the Mint Farm would make a suitable source for the municipal water supply. After conducting roughly 16,000 soil and water quality tests at the Mint Farm, Kennedy/Jenks concluded the aquifer's water was abundant and protected from surface contamination by a impenetrable layer of sand, silt, clay and gravel.

Last year's contract with Kennedy/Jenks also included $1.9 million for the firm to create a final design for the water plant, which would replace the deteriorating water plant on the Cowlitz River. Construction is slated to begin early next year and wrap up in mid-2012.

The council's decision also affects Beacon Hill Sewer District water customers. The Cowlitz PUD owns 14 percent of Longview's water supply, and the sewer district manages it.

"We are totally in favor of the Mint Farm wells," Kim Adamson, general manager of the Beacon Hill Sewer District, told the City Council on Thursday. "While you may hear that this is being rushed through, this has been a two-and-a-half year process."

The council's vote followed a lengthy discussion and comments from citizens concerned about protecting the wells from contaminants, the aquifer's capacity, the water's taste and odor, and worrisome activities at a nearby industrial site.

"Cowlitz County Deserves Better," a grass-roots group that advocates for clean water for fishing and drinking, passed out fliers in the council chambers Thursday saying the city should postpone a decision on the water supply until the state is finished investigating and addressing alleged environmental violations at Chinook Ventures. That company's site on Industrial Way (across the street from the Mint Farm) was contaminated by decades of Reynolds Metals Co.'s aluminum production, and hazardous materials have been found in the ground and groundwater.

The state Department of Ecology and Southwest Clean Air Agency fined Chinook nearly $250,000 last spring for failing to obtain clean air and water permits.

Longview resident Craig Dickinson wanted the city to scrap the Mint Farm idea and continue to draw water from the Cowlitz River. Dickinson, who worked at Reynolds Metals for 25 years, recalled the well water pumped from the Mint Farm aquifer stank and tasted bad.

"If you're going to put money into something, put money into a proven winner," he said. "We can shake the dice and we could lose, or we could refine what we have."

City staff pointed out that unlike Reynolds, the city plans to treat the well water for iron and manganese to remove the objectionable smell and taste. The city also will treat the water for arsenic, a naturally occurring mineral that was found at a level within the state's acceptable range for drinking water. Wastes from nearby industrial sites - such as PCBs, dioxins, cyanide, perchlorate and mercury - were not detected in the aquifer.

Thursday, the council took additional steps to protect the aquifer from contamination. By a 6-1 vote, the council approved Councilman Chuck Wallace's proposal to prohibit hydraulic fracturing in the well-field area. Hydraulic fracturing involves breaking rocks to increase the rate at which oil, gas or water can be produced from a reservoir.

The council also approved Wallace's proposal to establish well-head protection areas that would restrict activities that possibly could penetrate the aquifer, such as driving deep pilings.

Councilwoman Mary Jane Melink voted against both proposals because city staff already had explained that state law requires well-head protection areas with rules unique to each site. Melink said she felt Wallace's proposals were redundant.

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